Current Events and Telling the Truth

11 Pentecost B

August 08/09, 2015

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
It’s one of the bigger stories to hit Redding lately.  It’s gotten people all riled up, on both sides.  It’s ongoing, after a press conference this past Wednesday evening.  Most people have opinions.  Some of them are very strong.
I’m speaking, of course, about the death of the Redding attorney Mr. Abe Dabela last year and the way the police and state investigators handled the case.  I’m speaking of the aftermath, when his family called in the NAACP to investigate.
And all these things happened against our national backdrop of heightened awareness of incidents where African-Americans were mistreated or even killed in the hands of police, and where, also, police were targeted and killed by those carrying racial or other grudges against them.  And let’s not forget the national backdrop of outrageous acts being committed by a few disturbed people with access to guns letting loose on the innocent.
Sometimes it just feels like the world is falling apart, doesn’t it?  Sometimes it feels like we have lost a lot of civility and tenderness with each other.  These are qualities that we seem to recapture when there are terrible tragedies that strike near our hearts.  We are extra kind to each other for a while.  But then that seems to fade away again, doesn’t it, until the next tragedy.
How very sad.
 And so we have this very timely excerpt today from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus.  This is from the end of the letter—the part where Paul has transitioned from teaching about God’s nature to teaching about how we are to live, knowing what we know about God’s love for us.
Just listen again to the words and think about this current situation in town.  “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.”
Paul’s telling his listeners to be honest with each other, for only when the truth is out in its fullness can justice be done, so that the Body of Christ can heal and move on.  I must say I was pretty impressed with how our police chief and first selectman have indicated that they want to be totally forthcoming and cooperative so that everyone is satisfied.  That’s totally in line with Paul’s teaching here.  I pray that that will help everyone know the truth and then heal.
Paul goes on to say something that’s really interesting:  “Be angry but do not sin.”  It’s OK to be angry.  That’s a normal human response when we perceive injustice or unfairness or violation.  But then he says, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  In other words, clear up the anger soon…don’t let it fester.  That only makes things worse.  Those of us who are alive will understand that comment, right?  The sooner you clear up a source of anger the better.  Exposing things to the light helps them heal.  Keeping them in the dark does not.
Later on in this letter Paul teaches people to speak the truth at all times when he says “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths.”  Only speak of what will bring health and help people flourish.  Don’t disappoint the Holy One by spreading lies or rumors or anything that is wrong, even if it makes you feel good for a while.   
What did Mae West say?  “To err is human, but it feels divine.”
And here’s timeless advice to each one of us here today.  It’s for every situation in our lives, not just this latest sensational one in Redding.  Paul’s golden advice to us is “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
We all know this is great advice.  And we all know it’s some of the hardest advice to take.  Be kind.  Forgive.  Easier said than done.
Paul tells us to put away all the bad stuff.  Take on the good.  Be kind and tenderhearted.  When we’re functioning on a pretty even keel that’s easy to agree with.  But it’s really difficult to even hear the advice when we’re in a bad mood, or angry about something, or feeling very hurt, or betrayed, or upset. Because when we’re in that kind of horrible mood it actually feels good to be bitter and full of hate:  to err is human but it feels so divine.  It’s as hard as can be / to pull ourselves out of a bad state of mind.
And thanks be to God / we have help and understanding from God.  The Holy Spirit can get through to us, if we allow it.  God can help us to see reason, to cool down, to listen, to be at peace.  This is the work of God usually; and the work of God is also to prompt us to turn toward the better things and to be kind and tenderhearted.
Finally the work of God is to cajole us to be ready to forgive.  We forgive because we have been forgiven.  We love because we have been loved.  Jesus has shown us how to live a better life.  It’s up to us to take the help and turn toward the Good.
OK so you may be wondering if the preacher will come down on one side or other of this little storm happening in our town.  Actually the preacher has no opinion whatever.  Instead she prays for honesty and transparency.  She prays for anger to be processed and for people to be able to talk reasonably and to see one another with compassionate eyes.  She prays for racial healing and an end to stereotypes and prejudice.
May God be in this.  May each of the participants have strength and courage and good vision and a righteous heart.  May the truth come out.
In the words of one of our psalms (that we recited just about a month ago), may this situation become one where "Mercy and truth are met together; where righteousness and peace will kiss each other."  [After Psalm 85:10]